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Dave Wood's Book Report, Jan. 23, 2008

Historian A.K. Sandoval-Strausz has written a fascinating study of hostelries in "Hotel: An American History" (Yale University Press, no price).

It's his theory that Americans, not Europeans, set the standards for hotels in the 19th century due to several outside forces, including political.

In the course of this scholarly book, general readers will be fascinated with individual hotels they may have stayed in or wanted to stay in or were refused entry to.

You don't hear about Statler Hotel these days, but 50 years ago magazines were full of ads for the Statler chain. The first big hotel I ever stayed in was the Statler in Cleveland, when my college concert band went on tour. Rube that I was I thought it was pretty fancy.

Not so, according to Sandoval-Strausz's account. E.M. Statler got his start as a bellhop in the 19th century, worked his way up and became a hotelier by building a "temporary" hotel for Buffalo's Pan-American Exposition of 1900, where it boasted a 100 percent occupancy rate while the exposition lasted.

When it was over, Statler tore the hotel down!

He did it again and again in the era of expositions. Finally, he was able to build permanent hotels, but all were constructed with economy in mind, unlike venues like the Waldorf-Astoria or the Plaza in New York or the Blackstone in Chicago.

This beautifully printed treatise is studded with line drawings, etchings and photographs of famous hotels.

Several years ago my wife and I found ourselves in Krakow, Poland.

We had an afternoon off from our bus tour, so we made our way to Jagellonian University, an ancient school that now boasts more than 100,000 students.

We went to the old part, dating from the Middle Ages. A lovely old place, it had just closed down for summer hours.

Fortunately a graduate student saw us and let us in and showed us around.

The most fascinating part was the office of Nicolaus Copernicus, who discovered that Earth is not the center of the universe, that we revolve around the sun.

In a new book, "Copernicus' Secret," by Jack Repcheck (Simon & Schuster, $25) we learn more about this fascinating early Renaissance scholar, a cleric who had doubts about his religion and who feared to share his discovery to fellow religionists.

We might not have made such an early leap into astronomy had it not been for a young mathematician, Georg Rheticus, who traveled to rural Poland, where he was banned from entering as a Lutheran, to meet in secret with Copernicus, who shared his secret. This is good stuff!

"Lord John and the Hand of Devils," by Diana Gabaldan (Delacorte, $25) also goes back to 18th century England for a fanciful fiction about Gabaldan's popular character, Lord John Grey, who inhabits in one story, a membership in the London's notorious Hellfire Club. It's all good fun.

The indefatigable sportswriter Ross Bernstein is out this year with two more books, both about Minnesota hockey.

The first, "Old Time Hockey," by Glen Somnor with Ross Bernstein (Bernstein Books, $19.95 paper) finds the famous hockey icon reminiscing about his days on the ice, coaching on the sidelines and his struggle with alcoholism. Foreword by Lou Nanne.

The second is "More Frozen Memories," by Ross Bernstein (Nodin Press, $29.95), a huge supplement to his earlier "Frozen Memories."

Proceeds will go to the Herb Brooks Foundation. This coffee table book includes almost 800 photos and chronicles the Minnesota sport from high school tournaments on to the pros.

Bernstein really digs in and tells my favorite story about Minnesota Hockey.

Back in 1928, five Hanson brothers played hockey for tiny Augsburg College, where I taught in the '70s.

They were so good they were chosen to represent the U.S. in the Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

Money was raised for the trip and they were ready to go when an Olympic Committee member discovered they were born in Canada.

"Not representative of the U.S." he said. And so the Hanson kids, who grew up in North Dakota didn't get their trip to Switzerland.

And who was the Olympic Committee Member? Douglas MacArthur. The Hanson boys went on to distinguish themselves in pro hockey and in science and industry.

Dave Wood is a past vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. E-mail him at